How to respond when someone confides in you about their experience with sexual violence

*Content warning: sexual violence and trauma

Providing support to survivors of sexual violence is extremely important. You don’t have to be an expert on the issue to respond with compassion when someone confides in you about their experience with sexual violence. It can be a big decision for a survivor to choose to share their story, and if they confide in you, it likely means that they trust you.  

If someone reaches out to you in the immediate aftermath of experiencing violence, the first step is to ensure the survivor is safe and not in immediate danger. If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also reach out to the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) for support during this time. You can reach SARNCO’s statewide helpline at 1-844-OHIO-HELP and their local (Franklin County) helpline at 614-267-7020. 

Once you have established safety, do your best to remain present, engaged, authentic, and genuine in your response. Start by believing. Practice active listening. Be patient and eliminate distractions. It can be important to express general themes of compassion, support, belief, nonjudgment, and validation. 

Some examples of supportive responses you can offer when someone tells you they have experienced sexual violence include: 

  • “Thank you for sharing your experience with me.”  
  • “It takes a lot of courage for you to share this experience.” 
  • “I believe you.” 
  • “This wasn’t your fault.” 
  • “You didn’t deserve this.” 
  • “I’m sorry this happened to you.” 
  • “I’m here for you.” 
  • “How you are feeling is valid.” or “Your reaction is completely valid.”  
  • “You are not alone.” 

There are also some other reminders to keep in mind as you have this conversation. First and foremost, let the survivor guide the conversation. Be patient and gentle with them. Focus on listening. This may involve sitting in silence and respecting their pace, as well as allowing or encouraging them to take a break when needed. Do not try to fix the situation or jump to action – just focus on being present with them and offering support and validation. 

Don’t ask for details or pressure the survivor to share more information than they are comfortable disclosing. Follow the survivor’s lead and use the same language that they are using to describe their experience when you are talking to them. Don’t judge their reactions or emotions. Experiencing trauma can lead to a variety of valid responses, which can include anger, fear, confusion, sadness, numbness, and many others. Remind them that their experiences, reactions, and emotions are valid no matter how they may be feeling.  

Don’t give unprompted advice or offer suggestions unless you are specifically asked to do so. Instead, ask the survivor how you can best support them and let them define their wants and needs. You can also ask if they would like to look into what resources and options are available. Try to always ask permission before providing information. Asking for permission and letting the survivor take the lead can help to re-establish a sense of control and autonomy after their consent has been violated. If they say no, respect their decision. Do not judge their choices. It is completely up to the survivor what steps they take, including whether they want to report their experience or seek services. 

If you are serving in a capacity in which you are a mandatory reporter, gently inform the survivor of this role and explain what it means. If you are not, keep the survivor’s story confidential. Their story is theirs to tell, and it is up to them when they decide to share their story, as well as to whom and when they want to share their story.  

Finally, as a support person, it is important to care for yourself. Please remember that there are resources available for you as well. Many helplines, including SARNCO’s, are available to support co-survivors and loved ones.  

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you are not alone.  


On-Campus Resources

Community Resources


-Lucy Hennon, Graduate Student Assistant   

#Every1KnowsSome1 – Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2021(Content Warning)

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). The National Network to End Domestic Violence’s (NNEDV) theme for 2021 is #Every1KnowsSome1. 

Domestic violence is an umbrella term that can encompass forms of interpersonal violence such as: 

  • Intimate Partner Violence (also known as relationship violence or dating violence) 
  • Teen Dating Violence 
  • Family Violence (including child abuse and neglect) 
  • Elder Abuse 
  • Stalking 
  • Physical violence 
  • Sexual violence 
  • Emotional and psychological abuse  
  • Verbal abuse 
  • Financial abuse 
  • Forms of intimidation, coercion, or threats 

It is important to remember that domestic violence is about power and control.  

Anyone can experience domestic violence, regardless of their background or identity. However, due to intersecting forms of oppression, marginalized and underserved communities tend to experience domestic violence at disproportionate rates. Black women and girls, Native and Indigenous women and girls, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people experiencing poverty, individuals with disabilities, and people at the intersections of each of these identities experience higher rates of violence.  

Everyone has a right to healthy relationships, safe communities, and freedom from violence. Although one person cannot do everything, everyone can do something. 

  • While it is not a comprehensive list, here are some ways to raise awareness during DVAM and year-round: 
  • Believe and support victims and survivors 
  • Practice active bystander intervention 
  • Educate yourself and others on healthy relationships and consent. Talking to your friends, families, partners, and community members about these topics can be a powerful way to spread awareness 
  • Learn about anti-violence movements, activism, and advocacy 
  • Participate in community events and demonstrations  
  • Volunteer for, donate to, and support organizations working to end domestic violence and support survivors 
  • Speak out in support of the cause and share information on social media 
  • Advocate for policy and social change 
  • Take a pledge such as the White Ribbon Campaign:  

If you or someone you know has experienced any form of interpersonal violence you are not alone. 


Community and Nationwide Resources for Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence: 

On-campus resources: 

What Did Your Health Class Not Teach You About Sex? 

Content warning: This blog contains sensitive information regarding sexual assault. 

Were you told that abstinence is key? Were you told that if you have sex you will become pregnant and be tainted with an STI?  That’s what I was taught in middle school. I can remember being handed a notecard that said I would abstain from sex, drugs, and alcohol. That was the end of my sexual education. The education provided in our schools is severely lacking. This is definitely something to consider when thinking about the rates of sexual assault and harassment in our society, especially on college campuses. Among undergraduate students 23.1% of women and 5.4% of men experience rape or sexual assault (RAINN). These numbers are quite shocking and mean that you likely know someone who has experienced sexual violence. So why are the rates of sexual assault and rape so high? Many factors contribute to the problem, but sex education practices may be harmful.  Let’s think about the things many of us were taught and try to understand why some of these practices can be harmful. 

Only 24 states and DC in the United States mandate sex education, and most of them require abstinence as part of the curriculum (KFF). Why is teaching abstinence so harmful? The problem with teaching only abstinence is that we are being told simply not to have sex. This is harmful for a lot of reasons. First, it is discouraging the conversation about sex and placing a negative connotation of what sex is. Nobody wants to say it out loud and nobody wants to ask questions about it. In the few states that do mandate sex education, it is often skimmed over, focused on abstinence, and presented in a tone promoting shame. Where are we supposed to learn about sex? Who are we supposed to have these meaningful conversations with when society makes it such a shameful topic?  What do we do when the one place we are supposed to talk about it they leave out the most important aspects? 

Nobody ever learns what’s right and wrong. We don’t learn that what is portrayed in the media is not an accurate representation of what these experiences are supposed to be like. The media often has little to no representation of consent at all. Even more harmful, media often portrays signals of saying no and refusing consent as a reason to try harder. In our society, the movies we watch, the books we read, and the media we consume foster a stigma and negative connotation of sex. The lack of education around consent creates skewed beliefs and ideas of what sexual encounters should look like. A combination of these factors contributes to the high rates of sexual assault and rape.  

So how do we stop this, and how do we decrease the number of people’s lives that are being devastated by these acts? It is our responsibility to educate each other. To speak up when music lyrics talks about “taking what he wants when he wants it” or when the former president of the United States talks about the same thing. Start the conversation. The more openly we discuss the complexities of sexual relationships, the less stigma and shame will be associated with the topic of sex. We can help people understand that we have a responsibility to treat each other with respect and consideration in sexual relationships. 

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is an annual campaign to raise awareness about sexual violence and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent it.

-Sarah Frederick